The Concert

Song of Wonder is a concert of music, co-created by Nirmala Rajasekar and David Jordan Harris, which explores the theme of wonder through the music, folktales, and poetry of South Indian and Judeo-Spanish traditions.

 Highlights of the concert include excerpts from the oldest extant piece of notated Jewish music; improvisational performances by Nirmala on the veena in both familiar and rare ragas (the melodic soundscapes of Indian music); ancient Tamil Sangam poetry; plangent Judeo-Spanish and Hebrew chants from traditional Jewish communities in Bosnia, Turkey, and Morocco; and new musical arrangements flowing from the cross-cultural collaboration.

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While each of these musical traditions has emerged from its own particular historical circumstances and speak in its own musical vocabulary, the artists aim to open a door for audiences into their cultures through the language of music. Song of Wonder commits itself to the spirit of creativity in order to create new relationships and deeper understanding among its musicians and audiences as well as to inspire new compositional fusions which might excite and enlighten 21st century audiences.

Sephardic culture originated over twelve centuries ago in Spain. Its legacy of brilliance in poetry, the sciences, translation, and philosophy grew out of a fruitful symbiosis with Muslim Spanish culture. Following the fall of Moorish rule in 1492, the Spanish Jews (called Sephardim) were sent into exile under the terms of Ferdinand and Isabella's notorious Edict of Expulsion.  The Judeo-Spanish exiles settled throughout the Mediterranean region and beyond, wherever the Ottoman Empire extended, bringing with them their own dialect of Spanish (still spoken to this day). Throughout the centuries that followed, the Sephardic Jews continued to adapt themselves to new environments while maintaining a strong sense of self-identity.

Carnatic music is the classical musical tradition with roots in Southern India that is said to be over 2000 years old. It is a dynamic musical form with strong classical grammar that is passed generation to generation via the oral tradition. As with any ancient tradition, the music itself has been shaped by the history of the region’s incidents and the geography of the land. Its origins and development over the years is in itself a fascinating study. The main languages seen in the compositions are Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Ragas (melodic modes) and thalas (rhythm cycles and patterns) are at the core of this system which has absorbed many folk melodies into the form over time. The veena and mridangam (seen and heard in Song of Wonder) are two of the oldest instruments in this musical system, the instruments being as old as the musical form.

Song of Wonder was selected by the Minnesota State Arts Board for its Arts Tour Minnesota program in 2015-16. The original production was commissioned by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning at the University of St. Thomas and at St. John’s University.